ANOTHER milestone for Shamrock Rovers this evening as they host their first European tie at Tallaght Stadium.
The opposition for the Europa League second round first-leg game is provided by Israeli side Bnei Yehuda, under the baton of former national team coach Dror Kashtan, and both visiting manager and his Rovers counterpart Michael O’Neill were in the Aviva Stadium yesterday – where the Europa League final will be played next year – to look forward to an intriguing tie.
Bnei Yehuda’s victory over Armenian opposition in the first round gave Hoops boss O’Neill a chance to run the rule over the Israeli outfit on a scouting mission to Tel Aviv.
And he saw enough to suggest that the technically accomplished Israelis are “as good as or better than any side in the League of Ireland”.
O’Neill said: “This will be a challenge for us collectively and individually. Of the ties we could have got, this is as difficult as it comes. But we’ll approach it in a positive manner. We can’t win the tie in Tallaght but we could lose it. We have to do all we can to ensure the tie is alive in Israel. We don’t want this to detract from what we’re about domestically but, at the same time, we want to benefit from it. European football used to be a regular factor for Shamrock Rovers. This helps put the club back on the map.”
Yehuda manager Kashtan said that, after the scorching heat of Israel, the weather in Dublin had come as welcome relief. Although they have one European game under the belts, the club is still technically in pre-season but Kashtan said that the management had done all in their powers to help prepare the players for competitive action so soon after a short summer break. They resumes training on June 8 having only finished their previous season with a cup final appearance at the end of May.
For Rovers midfielder Stephen Rice, the lure of Europe is a real attraction even at this early stage of the competition.
“You want to play at the highest level you can play at and Europe gives us a chance to do that,” he said.
“There’s a good buzz around the club but then there’s been a buzz around the place since I came in three years ago. First there was the move to Tallaght, then going for the league last season and now, hopefully, this is another high.”
A crowd of 5,000 is expected at Tallaght tonight for the game which kicks off at 8pm.
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